Chamber Orchestra Review



Legends and a Future Legendary Violinist

May 4, 2003 - Duham, NC:


May 4 turned out to be one of the season's busiest days on the arts calendar in the Triangle area. It seemed as if every organization were closing up shop for the year, and there was also an abundance of offerings by area churches. It is quite a nice problem to have such an eclectic buffet of musical choices although I'm sure some hard decisions had to be made regarding which event to attend. Among the offerings was the final concert of its 2002-3 season of the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle (COT), given in the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham. Considering the competition, there was quite a good turnout, with the orchestra level of the auditorium approximately 80% filled.

The afternoon began with a rather lengthy plea from one of the board members for financial support. It is hard to say what, if any, effect this had, but like many "classical" series, this one draws a graying audience, primarily, and despite their very generous free admission policy for students, I did not see many persons who fell into this category. Some creative marketing is needed to draw some young blood to these wonderful concerts.

The COT describes itself as "An Authentic Classical Orchestra." I'm not certain how they are using the term "classical," but based on their programming it cannot be that they limit their repertoire to the classical period of music. It is most apparent in later music, like Dvorák's Legends , performed on this afternoon, that their main shortcoming is a lack of numbers in the lower strings. Despite three outstanding cellists and an excellent lone bass player, the performance suffered from an inadequate presence of the bottom sound.

It usually doesn't take long, after some experience with concert music, to begin to recognize the sound of a particular composer. Quite often, even for experienced musicians, it is hard to articulate what that certain something is, but you know it when you hear it. Antonin Dvorák is a composer who has an almost instantly recognizable style, even in his works that are not often played. Legends , Op. 59, started out as a piano duet but was orchestrated shortly after by Dvorák himself, mainly as a request from his publisher in an attempt to duplicate the huge success of his Slavonic Dances .

There are ten movements in this work that, despite its title, has no known program or story. Lorenzo Muti, Conductor and Artistic Director, introduced the work in lieu of program notes. He was correct in describing it as a work seldom heard but one that would be instantly recognizable. Within just a few measures, all the hallmarks of Dvorák's style were there, and it continued that way for 45 minutes. This is lovely, delicate and heartfelt music, but it proves to be just too much of a good thing. At half its length, Dvorák's Czech Suite is a much more concise and effective work with very similar musical ideas. The COT gave a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric performance, and it was obvious that Muti has a special fondness for this rarely-performed work. I was glad I got to hear it, but ultimately it works better in smaller doses.

Next I had the special opportunity to hear a composition that, just a few weeks ago, I had performed, as a cellist in the Duke Symphony Orchestra. Violin Concerto No. 5, in A Minor, Op. 37, by Henri Vieuxtemps, is one of those works that unfairly gets characterized as a concerto that only players of that instrument have any interest in. This was the first time I actually had a chance to listen to the whole work from audience's perspective, and I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The soloist was Mayuko Kamio, a 16-year-old phenomenon from Japan who has already amassed several major competition prizes and engagements with many major orchestras. She played a 1727 Stradivarius previously owned by Joseph Joachim and on loan from Suntory, Limited. Muti again delivered the program notes, and this young girl looked a bit nervous as she awaited the start of the piece. Once she began to play, it was instantly apparent to everyone present that she is an extraordinary talent. The first movement of this work contains some spectacular technical feats that were tossed off effortlessly and naturally. Kamio projects a warm and beautiful tone and presents a totally professional and relaxed demeanor. For me, one of the traits of a truly outstanding performance is that, for the moment at least, you find it hard to imagine anyone else playing better. This is how I felt listening to Kamio. This is not a fill-in-the-accompaniment violin concerto like some of Paganini's. There are many beautifully written orchestral parts, and Muti and the COT brought these out when necessary without encroaching on the soloist.